By Katina Petersen
Reatha Clark King, a model of integrative leadership, was the guest of honor at the Center for Integrative Leadership's Dinner Conversation Series on Friday, November 19th. Reatha was asked to discuss her approach to her work across sectors. We spent the evening together talking and listening to her stories.
Reatha shared her impressive life story with students over dinner. The first person in her family to go to college, she worked her way through her Bachelors, Masters, and PhD in Chemistry and became an associate dean by the time she was 31. After she received her MBA, she became the President of Metro State University here in Minnesota. After that, she became the president of the General Mills Foundation until she retired. With all of these roles, she had to work with others across different sectors and fields to be effective in her work.
Because Reatha does have such an inspirational story, we asked student leadership team members and their guests who attended the dinner to reflect on their time with Reatha. Here are a few of their comments:
I found the dinner conversation with Reatha Clark King to be an inspirational evening--I had a wonderful, enriching time listening to Reatha's insight and experience over the years with other student leadership team members and their guests. What stood out for me in the anecdotes she shared was her curiosity and appreciation of her education. She saw her education as a tool that could be used to combat the discrimination she faced as an African-American woman in the United States.
I think that one of the primary challenges of cross-sector work is finding the ability to communicate. Whether it's between public, private, and non-profit sectors or between different departments within one organization, we all tend to find comfort and a lexicon in which we operate - it's tough to break out of that and the cross-sectoral leadership we talk about must take language into account in order to be successful.
I found it motivating. A point was made to become involved in the process to effect change. That provided motivation to work hard to make sure the student leadership team starts making progress on the issues that we identify.
I also loved the advice about thinking about things one day at a time...while many of the issues facing our generation have a long time horizon and are very complex, thinking about them as a day at a time, makes them more manageable.
Ms. Clark King noted the importance of being determined, of not letting others define you or what you are doing, and to make personal and direct efforts to reach out to individuals across boundaries, building relationships of respect and trust. Integrative leadership begins with the individual, with a mindset and the determination to reach across boundaries, and in the case of Ms. Clark King, even a sort of assumption that working across boundaries is the only real logical way to proceed and be successful in whatever endeavor you take on.
Many students came away feeling inspired and motivated to work towards effecting change persistently when differences across sectors or disciplines or groups of people seem insurmountable. The Center for Integrative Leadership is so happy to have had time to hear from Reatha at our November Dinner Conversation Series!